Mar 29, 2010

Let us discover each other!

Peace is essential, not only for India and Pakistan but for the whole of South Asia

By Hamid Mir

A statue of Sir Ganga Ram once stood on the Mall Road in Lahore. This statue of a Hindu engineer and social worker came under attack during the riots of 1947. According to famous Urdu writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, one day an angry mob first pelted the statue with stones and then smothered its face with coal tar. Then a man made a garland of old shoes and climbed up to put it round the neck of the statue. The police arrived and opened fire. Among the injured was the boy with the garland of old shoes. As he fell, the mob shouted: "Let us rush him to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital."

The statue of Sir Ganga Ram disappeared from the Mall Road Lahore within a few years after the creation of Pakistan but Sir Ganga Ram Hospital is still there. This hospital was built by Sir Ganga Ram in 1921.The Hindu name of this famous hospital survived because there was no politics behind the creation of this institute. The City of Lahore still has many hospitals and colleges with non-Muslim names like Gulab Devi Hospital and Dayal Singh College.

Like the Indians, Pakistanis also changed many British names. The city of Montgomery was renamed as Sahiwal, Lyallpur became Faisalabad and Lawrence Garden was named Jinnah Garden because all these British names were symbols of 'tyranny'. No Hindu or Sikh name was changed. We still have a Hindu Gymkhana in Karachi. Once a military dictator General Ziaul Haq tried to change the Hindu and Sikh names of some pre-partition institutes but the people of Lahore refused to allow this because they saw Ganga Ram, or Gulab Devi or Dayal Singh not as Indians but only good human beings.

This is also the case with Aligarh Muslim University established by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in 1875. This University is a source of pride not only for Muslims but for all Indians. Hakim Ajmal Khan and Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar established Jamia Millia Delhi in 1925 -- not just for Muslims but for everyone. The name of university also survived like Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Lahore. What is the lesson? If a Hindu does good work, his Hindu name will always be remembered in Pakistan. If a Muslim does a good work he can get respect in India.

Unfortunately, today our focus is not on good work because good work is not a big story. Most of my media colleagues in India and Pakistan focus more on negative stories -- violence and its effects are sensational, they draw more viewers, listeners and readers. Journalists focus on Hafiz Saeed because he hates India but they will not focus the humanitarian work of Abdus Sattar Edhi who runs the biggest private ambulance service in the world. They want to glorify the anti-Pakistan statements of Bal Thackeray but they don't care about Manmohan Singh who always faces problems whenever he speaks about peace with Pakistan.

Sometimes I feel that war is possible anytime in South Asia and peace is impossible. I think that we must stand by those who are attempting the impossible. Peace is essential, not only for India and Pakistan but for the whole of South Asia. Peace is like oxygen. Everyone needs oxygen. If there is less oxygen in one country of South Asia, it will be dangerous for the environment of the whole region. If there is less water in one country of the region, it will threaten the environment of the whole region. If there is enough water in Bangladesh then Bengalis will not cross the border and go to India in search of jobs. If there is enough water in Pakistan nobody will blame India for stealing river waters. Both India and Pakistan are facing water shortage but instead of working together they are involved in the blame game.

We must not think with our fears and suspicions but we must think with our best hopes for each other. Extremists are in a minority but they are organised and determined to implement their war agenda. Unfortunately, liberals and moderates are disorganised and full of doubts about each other.

Today, extremist forces have successfully raised tension in the region. Moderate forces, which currently include the governments on both sides, are reluctant even to talk to each other because they constantly suspect each other. In so doing, (i.e. not talking) they are playing into the hands of those who can create a warlike situation anytime by just organising one terrorist incident. Their survival lies in conflict and tensions, which they are successfully orchestrating. Our survival lies in peace but we are not joining hands to gain strength.

We the writers, poets, and journalists must play a greater role for minimising the tension. This tension is dangerous for peace. Peace, as I said earlier, is oxygen. Peace is a must for love. A loveless life is a fruitless tree and a friendless life is a rootless tree. Trees can live without fruit but not without roots. Let us discover our roots. We can discover our roots in Afghanistan.

When we look at Afghanistan we see only Taliban and terrorism because that is what the media shows us. But Afghanistan has also given us so many of Sufi poets and saints like Hazrat Ali Hajwairi (Data Ganj Baksh) of Lahore and Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer who are revered by all our religious communities. Hazrat Ali Hajwairi came from Ghazni to Lahore and Hazrat Khawaja Moeenudin Chishti had roots in Herat area of Afghanistan.

Instead of an India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan why can't we follow the teachings of our great Sufi saints? Why can't we build an India-Pakistan Peace Hospital in Kabul? All the South Asian countries should start joint efforts for making peace and stability in Afghanistan. Once Afghanistan is stabilised it will be a big achievement of the whole region and then we could have a successful India-Pakistan Peace Mission in Kashmir.

Let us discover each other. We hate each other and we love each other. We have a unique and contradictory chemistry. Media in India and Pakistan have already discovered lot of hatred. Now is the time for discovering some love. We must focus on those who are attempting the impossible, which takes courage. We must discover some new Ganga Rams and Sir Syed Ahmad Khans in India and Pakistan. I am sure that our region has a lot of good people who are working not only for their own religious community, whether Hindu or Muslim, but for everyone. Good people are in the majority but their voices are not heard in media. They are dominated by war-mongers. We must become voice of good souls. We need these good souls not just for two countries but we need them for the peace and prosperity of the whole South Asia.

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